I can’t tell you how many times I have been walking on my property and thought, “I wish everyone could experience this.” Sometimes I even feel guilty about the outdoor experiences I have had knowing others haven’t been as fortunate. I realize that not everyone shares in my love of the outdoors, and there are many who would rather be doing a hundred other things than being in the “middle of no where” as it is so often described. Some would be bored, others would be scared. Still, I know there are a lot of folks, both young and old, who wish they had access to the great outdoors, even for a day at time.
So what do folks like us do? I don’t have the financial means to give property away, but I do have the means to share my property with those who want to experience a piece of the great outdoors. Agritourism is a growing trend and is supported by many local and state organizations in a variety of ways.
So what exactly is agritourism?
Virginia law, for example, defines agritourism as “any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, wineries, ranching, historical, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions. An activity is an agritourism activity whether or not the participant paid to participate in the activity.”
Most folks think of visiting a working farm when they think of agritourism and in many cases, they are correct. Working farms have made up a large part of early agritourism, but there is so much more anyone interested in “sharing” their property can do. Depending on your geographic location, the amount of acres you own, and what you personally enjoy, agritourism can include the following:
- Barn dances
- Bed and breakfast accommodations
- Biking trails
- Bird watching
- Birthday parties
- Campfires (don’t forget the marshmallows)
- Corn mazes
- Corporate and group events
- Farm scavenger hunts
- Farm vacations (a day or a week on the farm: living, working, enjoying)
- Fee-fishing pond (fishing, cleaning, and cooking)
- Hay wagon rides
- Herb walks
- Hiking paths (walking, identifying vegetation, determining a tree’s age, picnicking)
- Historic reenactments
- “How-to” clinics such as jam and jelly making, how to shear sheep, quilting, canning,
- Pony and horseback riding
- Pumpkin patch (picking, painting, carving, and buying)
- Snow sledding
- Sorghum milling
- Stargazing and moonlight activities
- Storytelling/story swaps
How To Get Started?
According to the our friends at the Virginia Cooperative Extension …….
* Create a plan. What farm experience can you offer the public that will make your operation unique, in compliance with all local ordinances and codes, and profitable?
* Plan to grow your business. After developing the initial plan to establish an agritourism business, you need to consider how to continually create new adventures to attract new guests and entice those who have already visited the farm to return. When considering growth, assess space limitations, availability of parking, maximum number of people who can be safely transported, time required to travel around the activity area, and seating capacity for activities.
* Understand your liability. When visitors arrive on your property, liability increases. Identify risk-management issues, implement safety plans to prevent identified risks, and obtain the necessary insurance coverage for your specific operation. Wise agritourism entrepreneurs consult their attorneys and insurance agents prior to opening their doors to guests.
* Develop partnerships. Talk to neighbors about your plans and ask for their support. Inform your economic development office and Chamber of Commerce about your plans to open a new business enterprise. Review road signage and confirm that directions to the farm are clearly marked.
* Inventory existing attractions. Ask the local tourism office to provide assistance in reviewing your publicity plan and linking to other local activities. Determine if other farms in the region are engaged in agritourism activities and explore the idea of all the farms developing a publicity partnership.
* Visit other agritourism farms.
* Add your operation to tourism websites. Most state websites have a place to add your operation to their listings of attractions. For example, in Virginia you can contact the Virginia Tourism Corporation at www.virginia.org, and scroll to the bottom of the page to select “Add/Update a Listing.”
* Know your customers. Long-time agritourism entrepreneurs know that their customers want to slow down, relax, and truly enjoy a farm experience.
* Set guiding rules for all farm visitors and communicate them clearly. You will want to make the visit a wonderful experience for each guest. However, guests must follow the rules for handling animals, traveling through open fields, and avoiding areas that are not visitor-safe.
Already operating a agritourism business? Let us hear from you so we can share you story with our community!